A fledgling project in Athens seeks to promote and expand the crafting and use of homemade reusable sandwich bags for area schoolchildren, while also promoting a local project to feed low-income children during the summer.

The combining of the local Zero Waste campaign with the local annual effort to reduce hunger among kids who are home for the summer is more theoretical than reality at this point, though a few local people hope to see that change.

In an interview at the Makerspace on Friday, Erin Hogan, manager of the Athens Makerspace and ReUse on Union by ReUse Industries (751 W. Union St.), explained the genesis of the sandwich-bag project, as well as its desired link with Athens County Children Services’ 12th annual Peanut Butter & Jelly Project. 

A few months ago, according to Hogan, fourth-grade students at Laurelville Elementary School in Hocking County agreed to take Rural Action’s Zero Waste Pledge. After this, Hogan said, Megan Almeida, Ohio Stream Restore Corps AmeriCorps member and Zero Waste events coordinator at Rural Action, and Susan Righi, a Rural Action volunteer, approached Hogan about the students’ pledge.

“(We wanted) to see if Athens Makerspace could help the students by utilizing our fabric shop and supply of donated fabrics to craft a reusable alternative to the Ziploc baggies being thrown out every day by the 85-plus students in their grade who regularly pack lunches,” Hogan explained.

This led Hogan, Almeida and Righi, along with “numerous other hard-working volunteers” to spend much of April “researching, prototyping, sewing, hand-crafting, and then donating 85 reusable waxed fabric wraps that can replace Ziploc sandwich bags, andmore than 20 machine-washable cotton lunch bags that can replace disposable bags used to pack whole lunches,” Hogan said.

The bags come with detailed care instructions “so students’ parents can understand the goal of the project and how to make these alternatives to single-use plastics last as long as possible,” she added.

Friday afternoon, The NEWS met with Hayes and local resident Bill Hayes to discuss the project, and its organizers’ hope to spread the word and expand it to elementary schools in Athens County.

“That’s what the Makerspace and ReUse are all about,” Hogan said, noting that this is the 25th anniversary of ReUse Industries in Athens County. “We did this one little project, but now we’d like to expand it to all local schools, and maybe that can be part of our 25th anniversary celebration,” she said.

Hayes, who with his wife has been a significant donor to the Peanut Butter & Jelly Project, said the Zero Waste sandwich-bag/lunch-bag project is a win-win. “Think about that,” he said. “They’re cutting waste. They’re saving their parents a ton of money. They’re teaching these kids to be environmentally responsible. How can you not like all that? And the great thing that really got me is that these are local people, right here in Athens County, who said you know what, we can solve some of our own problems by just working together, and I love that. We need all of that that we can get…”

He said he contacted The NEWS because he thinks it’s important to “spread the message to some of the other schools in Athens County, the rest of the schools, get their parents involved… and what a great thing that would be…”

Hogan expressed support for that outreach in an email Friday morning, noting that Hayes wanted to see if they “could challenge parents of students at ALL area elementary schools to embrace a similar Zero Waste goal by coming to Athens Makerspace to craft these items for their children, and at the same time raise awareness about and connect with the Peanut Butter and Jelly Project organized by Athens County Children Services to reduce hunger for area children.”

Hogan acknowledged that the reusable sandwich bag project got launched “a bit late” to formally combine efforts with the Peanut Butter & Jelly Project this year. However, she added, “Athens Makerspace is fully behind the commitment to get the reusable fabric lunch bags and wraps out into the community in this manner.”

To accomplish this, she said, “we are happy to donate the fabrics and use of our facility.”

She said they hope to source some community funding for the supplies needed to make the waxed wraps. “But perhaps area parents passionate about reducing waste would like to contribute to the cause.

“In the future,” she added, “we would like to combine this with fundraising efforts for the PB&J Project, which seeks donations both of these two items (peanut butter and jelly), and cash that can be used to purchase bread, which I believe must be purchased fresh weekly.”

Hayes on Friday described how he and his wife, Stephanie, donate to the Peanut Butter & Jelly Project every year. “We donate about that much,” he said, gesturing toward a cart full of those two food staples in the front room of the Athens Makerspace. “(That’s) about $150 worth of peanut butter and jelly for the Children Services peanut butter and jelly project. We don’t want to see kids go hungry in this county, and hunger is a very real issue here,” he said.

He recalled the day that he learned about the Zero Waste sandwich bag project. “So anyhow, I’m working over here (at Makerspace)… and you had a group of women here, I mean they were working hard, working like gangbusters, going right at making these wonderful little reusable wax cotton sandwich bags and sandwich wraps for kids in their school.,.”

Cash donations to the PB&J Project can be sent to: PB&J Project, Athens County Children Services, 10 Stonybrook Drive, Athens OH 45701.

According to the ACCS website, “Every Thursday in June and July, ACCS will be at six different sites around Athens county with peanut butter, jelly and bread to distribute to families needing food assistance. They will start at 11 a.m. and stay until 1 p.m., or whenever supplies run out. The week of July 4, the distribution will be on Wednesday, July 3.”

Those distribution sites include Alexander Elementary in Albany, The Plains Elementary, Amesville Elementary, Coolville Public Library, the Nelsonville Park (by the city pool), and Trimble Elementary.

Several local businesses hosted drop boxes for food donations throughout June, and at least one, Rocky Boot Outlet Store will continue accepting peanut butter and jelly donations through July 27.

For more information on the PB&J Project, call ACCS at 740-592-3061 or visit www.athenschildren.com.

To donate time or money to Athens Makerspace/ReUse Industries, call 740-447-9055.

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